Luna Negra Dance Theater

October 1, 2011

The Harris Theater

Chicago, IL
October 1, 2011

Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro

Three fiery Latina personalities painted the stage, one literally, in “Mujeres,” Luna Negra’s season opener marking the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Company director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano paid tribute to Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide in Not Everything, a world premiere. White photo paper hanging from a frame defined a path across the stage for black-clad Renee Adams as Iturbide, and Monica Cervantes, her alter ego in white. Adams made a somber trajectory carrying an enormous bucket, while Cervantes followed her, interrupting Adams’ weighted resolve with frenzied angularity. Sansano’s distinctive use of mime-like gestures  made for an arresting duet that represented the strength and drama in Iturbide’s black-and-white photography of Mexico’s indigenous population. The first section culminates in Adams pouring thick black paint from her bucket onto the white paper. The paper gradually ascends, the black paint slowly dribbling down the canvas, while the ensemble in black fills the stage, mirroring the paint.  Anguished leg swipes and jarring thrusts to the floor create tension between the abrupt agitation of the dancers and the slow drip of ink coming to life.

Guest choreographer Asun Noales’ Juana, a second world premiere, also used a black-and-white motif and hanging white panels to frame the conflicted life of Juana The Mad, a 16th-century Spanish queen. Veronica Guadalupe portrayed Juana’s alternating strength, vulnerability, and torment with haunting mastery of Noales’ complex movement sequences. The opening scene of a lifeless Christ-like figure (Juana’s dead husband), transported along the rolling bodies of the black-clad ensemble, made a striking first image, but the choreography never fulfilled the rich promise of its beginning. In the end, the drama seemed incomplete, lacking the movement originality that Juana’s bizarre story required.



Paloma Querida
(Beloved Dove, 2010) is Michele Manzanales’ homage to Frida Kahlo. Thoroughly entertaining, this piece showcased Luna Negra’s vibrant spirit and dance smarts. A blown-up cyclorama of a Kahlo canvas and four empty picture frames served as colorful backdrop to four danced portraits of the artist, each a different aspect of Kahlo. Renee Adams in a red robe on a white table gave us the interior Frida, sensual and direct. She reflected Kahlo’s self-control in a formal carriage of head and neck, reminiscent of Spanish dance, but with a pliant use of torso that owed it’s range to modern dance. Kirsten Shelton, in a man’s suit, navigated a party and soliloquized with a chair, a woman who could wield her weight in a man’s world. Veronica Guadalupe transformed into a flirtatious Frida, full of verve, while Monica Cervantes found a softer, more fragile side of the artist. Ensemble sequences punctuated the solos with folk rhythms that joyously echoed in movement the melody and attitude of the Spanish language.


Photos, top to bottom: Monica Cervantes in
Not Everything. Renee Adams (center) in Paloma Querida. By Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Luna Negra.